Village Voice

Amy Salmon's E-Mail from Thailand (Part 2)

Whew!  What a week!  I have been to Burma and back, moved, gotten a Thai cell phone and Thai bank account, and taught some truly adorable Thai children how to play Hangman and Bingo.  I've moved into a furnished apartment that's very nice.  The visa run was successful and I've now been about 2 blocks into Myanmar.  Cross another country off the list!  It was a wild day.  It turned out that there was no group going that day so I went on my own, with detailed instructions from my Thai friends on how and where to go.

I left at 6:30 am and took a "regular bus", which I didn't think was air-conditioned but actually was, from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.  That took about 3 ½ hours.  My assigned seat turned out to be next to the only other Westerner, or farang as they say here, on the bus, a German guy who'd lived in northern California for years and has been in Thailand for three.  We had an interesting conversation about Thai politics, which are in a state of turmoil at the moment.  Basically there have been lots of demonstrations against Thaksin, the Thai Prime Minister, in Bangkok.  Right now there are about 200,000 people camped out in front of his office demanding his resignation.  It's all coming to a head at the moment because Thailand is holding an election on April 2 and it may end up being disrupted since all of the people demanding that Thaksin resign are threatening to boycott the election or something if he doesn't.  We're pretty removed from it all here in Chiang Mai, although there was a pro-Thaksin rally the other day at the Thapae Gate.  He's got a lot of support in rural Thailand but not in Bangkok.  He just made a lot of money selling a telecommunications company to Singapore that made a lot of people angry; they're also marching in front of Singapore's embassy in Bangkok.  I just saw that on the Australian news.  There hasn't been any violence in Bangkok or anything, just a lot of noise.  Something along these lines happened in the early 90s and the Thai king had to intervene to get the parties to talk and resolve the situation.  Although Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and the king doesn't have any real political power, he has tremendous influence, and is revered by the Thai people.

Anyway, when I got to Chiang Rai I had a couple of hours so I went to the Hilltribe Museum, which was really interesting.  Then I caught another bus up to the Thai city that actually borders Burma, Mae Sai.  This was what's called an "ordinary bus", which is not air-conditioned.  I was the only farang around.  It took another two hours.  Then I had to take a taxi to the border.  I got on one that said "Border/Immigration", which looked pretty straightforward. 

All went well until I started to panic that I'd somehow missed the border when we went under some arch that I thought looked official and passed signs that said "Mae Sai Immigration".  I tried in vain to find someone who spoke English on the taxi.  (Taxis outside Bangkok are actually flatbed trucks, painted red, with two benches facing each other).  Then someone said in very limited English that this was where I needed to get off, so I did, and went to the building that said immigration.  Inside a polite man said, in perfect English, "No, ma'am, you need to go another two kilometers to Myanmar."   Argh.  So I went back out to the road, where there was not a taxi or a tuk-tuk to be found.  I was standing there, sweating like a pig as usual, and debating whether or not I had the energy to start walking to Myanmar when a Thai schoolgirl came up and asked if she could help me.  She translated for me and got me onto a motorbike taxi, which had materialized out of nowhere.  Not to be confused with a tuk-tuk, which has seats.  This was just the bike.  Fun times! 

Once I finally got to the border I realized that it's pretty hard to miss, considering that there's a huge sign, and another arch, that says "The Union of Myanmar", plus about a million booths that you have to go through before you can leave Thailand.  Definitely a boneheaded move bailing on the red taxi, but live and learn!  I had to fill out a departure card, since I was leaving Thailand, and have it stamped about three times.  I just kept showing my passport and saying, "Visa?"  My favorite part was when one of the Thai officials looked at my passport, saw that I had duly received my departure stamps, and said, "You go to Myanmar, now!" 

This meant following a stream of people under the arch that said "The Union of Myanmar", making sure that I was in the "In" line and not the "Out" line.  Then I went into yet another booth where Myanmar immigration gave me another few stamps and asked me where I was going.  I said Thailand.  He said OK, gave me back my passport, and I crossed the street and got into the line going under the "Out" sign.  Then I crossed under yet another arch, this one reading "Welcome to the Kingdom of Thailand".  I got an arrival card, filled it out, and got into the line of people in the "Passport Control" line.  Several more stamps later, I was back searching out red taxis.  I found one that said Mae Sai bus station, this one fortunately containing another farang who confirmed that I was in the right place.

Back at the Mae Sai bus station, I had just enough time to get some food before boarding the bus back to Chiang Mai.  I had bought one for the "VIP Bus", which turned out to be really nice.  They also served food.  The ride back to Chiang Mai took another 4 hours.  It's not bad except in the mountains, where some of the roads are seriously windy and twisted.  I was reading until all of a sudden I had a rare bout of carsickness and thought I was going to be sick then and there.  I think it was more the heat than anything, but I put the book away and just tried not to move.  All ended well but I was happy to see Chiang Mai again!  Next month I think I may just fly to Laos!  My shower is calling me, so I'll say good night.  I'll tell you more about school later.  It's a lot of fun...very challenging, but quite rewarding.    Lots of love, Amy

Return to Village Home Page